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10 ways to become an inspirational teacher

Yesterday I attended a Westminster Forum event on testing and assessment. It was an excellent event, not least because something I have been saying for years was validated.

It has always been my contention that if you love your subject and teach it well, your students should do well in the final exam. Yesterday, a member of the audience (whose name I unfortunately failed to catch) stated that it has been found that the students of teachers who teach in an inspirational way achieve better results than students of those who teach to the test. This chimed with Bruce Dickson's observation, based on 50 years in education, that inspirational teaching turns pupils on.

I agree. So what can we do about it? It's generally held to be true that inspirational teachers are born, not made. I am not altogether convinced by that: I think it's possible for most teachers to be inspirational. Here are some reflections on these matters.

1 Throw out the syllabus, at least one lesson a week

Some of my best lessons were the ones I 'planned' driving into work or on my way to a lesson. A few days ago, for example, there was an article in the news about the English government deciding to pass a law making it compulsory for the police to retain the DNA samples of innocent people for six years. That's too rich a story to be shelved until I'm covering databases, in six weeks' time or whenever.

2 If throwing out the syllabus for a day is too risky, then throw it out for 10 minutes

That's right. Why not start each lesson going through the news, or picking up on one or two stories that have an educational technology aspect to them?

3 Use the pupils

If all that sounds like too much extra work, allocate the work to pupils, age permitting. Assign the task of gathering news items to three pupils per lesson. Their homework will be to spend a bit of time together deciding on the best two or three items. Assuming you have a class of 30, by the end of term all of them would have done this.

Think of the skills they will be learning and honing in the process: news spotting, collaboration with each other, discussion with each other as they each argue the case for ‘their’ item to be included, and presentation skills.

They will also, of course, be demonstrating their understanding of ICT itself. Otherwise, how could they select an item for discussion at all?

4 Use a photo

Try taking a photograph (or finding one on Flickr), and then asking your pupils to identify what educational technology they can see, or which is implied.

Where's the ICT?

Image by Terry Freedman via Flickr


5 Turn the tables

Ask your pupils to take photos and then explain where the educational technology is, or why they think the photo is relevant to the subject.

You could do this every couple of weeks. Alternatively, ask each student to take and print off a photo, and put them all on the noticeboard. Where there is a spare five minutes at the end of a lesson, select a pupil at random and ask them to explain their photo. Or somebody else's.

6 Work with other teachers

One of the things which I took away from yesterday's conference was the following, from Professor Mary James, of the University of Cambridge:

"Teachers who 'get' Assessment for Learning,

are themselves reflective learners;

collaborate with colleagues;

go to see good practice in other schools."

So how about getting together with your English colleagues and set up an extended writing exercise involving educational technology - as the subject matter, not just the means of producing it? For instance, how about a short story or a haiku on the theme of identity theft, virtual friendship or technology going wrong?

7 Invest time in reading

There are lots of interesting blogs to read. Just set up a Google alert for 'ICT in Education' or 'educational technology' and you'll find them. A few I really enjoy reading are Paul Blogush's blog, Shelly Terrell's blog and Di Brooks' blog. I like them for different reasons. Try them out for yourself.

I have already made the case for maintaining a (small) educational technology library at school. There are some really interesting books around, not all of which are to do with educational technology as such. For example, I am currently enjoying Howard Gardner's Five Minds For The Future (listed on http://www.ictineducation.org/books-from-amazon/).

8 Definitely visit other schools to see what they're up to

When I was inspecting schools' ICT provision I had to say to the ICT leader, on more than one occasion, "You need to get out more." Even the best provision can often benefit from the injection of fresh ideas and perspectives.

9 Go to conferences

You may pick up new ideas, and get to make new connections with like-minded others. There are at least three interesting conferences coming up in the near future:

Transforming Learning Through Creativity and ICT, Liverpool 27 November 2009. Features Keynotes by Sir Ken Robinson, Tanya Byron, John Davitt and Ben Johnson. Phone (+44)151 233 3901 to book a place.)

Or there's the 140 Character Conference in London on November 14th: check http://london.140conf.com/for details.

School won't let you out? Then how about the K12 Online Conference, which starts on November 30th. See http://k12onlineconference.org/ for details.

And don't forget Mirandamod for some serious seminar-style discussions via FlashMeeting (and in person, if you can get there). See http://www.mirandanet.ac.uk/mirandamods/for topics and dates.

Also, Classroom 2.0 takes place on the internet every Saturday at http://live.classroom20.com/(I shall be talking myself -- hopefully not to myself! -- on November 21st.

Finally, you ought to try to get to a Westminster Forum conference now and then. As well as featuring speakers who are experts in their field, they last only for a morning or an afternoon.

10 Join a club

I think it's important to get involved, or at least belong to, offline communities too. That's why I'm a member of Naace, the British Computer Society and the Royal Society of Arts. Attending events is another way of meeting new people and being exposed to fresh ideas.

Once someone starts to feel inspired, they're more likely to inspire others. By adopting these sorts of strategies, and encouraging (and allowing) your colleagues to do the same, you're helping to create the conditions in which inspirational teaching can flourish.

I doubt that I have covered the whole range of ideas here! I'd be interested to hear your ideas for encouraging inspirational teaching.

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(c) Terry Freedman